Cold somen noodles served with grated ginger, scallion, and a delicious dipping sauce called Tsuyu. This is a perfect Japanese noodle recipe for hot summer days.
When the weather gets impossibly warm and you start losing your appetite, what do you usually end up eating? Growing up in Asia, summers were often brutally hot. To beat the heat, my favorite go-to dishes on these sweltering days are Japanese cold noodles dishes such as somen and soba. As you slurp the slippery Cold Somen Noodles (そうめん) dipped in delicious tsuyu, you’d feel your body starting to cool in the summer heat.
What Are Somen Noodles
Sōmen (素麺,そうめん) are white Japanese noodles made of wheat flour and they are very thin, about 1 mm in diameter. The dough is stretched with the help of vegetable oil to make very thin strips and then air-dried. You can read more about the somen-making process here.
Where to Buy Somen Noodles
You can find dried somen noodle packages at Japanese and Asian grocery stores.
Jin, my friend from middle school, sent me these packages of somen noodles from Shodo Island where he currently lives. The pink somen noodles are made of Ume (梅), Japanese plum. The Tenobe Somen (手延そうめん) from Shodo Island has made the region famous as one of Japan’s top three producers of somen noodles. These somen noodles are hard to get overseas, but my favorite Ibonoito brand is available at Japanese grocery stores and I highly recommend this brand.
How to Cook Cold Somen Noodles
Because of its threadlike thinness, somen noodles often take less than 3-4 minutes to cook in boiling water. While cooking, you want to stir the noodles with chopsticks to prevent sticking.
Once cooked, drain the noodles in a colander immediately. Using your hands, gently knead the noodles while rinsing them under cold running water. This helps to remove the excess oil from the noodles.
Dip Your Somen Noodles in Tsuyu
Cold somen noodles are served with a dipping sauce called Tsuyu (つゆ). The dipping sauce is the same Japanese dashi-based broth used in hot soup, but more concentrated in flavor. It’s super handy to make a big batch of easy homemade tsuyu as we use it often in the summertime!
You can also get a bottle of mentsuyu at Japanese/Asian grocery store or Amazon. No shame, I always have one in the fridge!
Just be careful though, as each mentsuyu brand has different instructions for how you use the concentrated or non-concentrated sauce, so adjust as needed. You can find the diluting instructions on the back of the bottle.
I explained a bit more on this Mentsuyu Pantry Page.
How to Serve Somen Noodles
I love keeping things simple by adding some chopped scallions and ginger to the Tsuyu dipping sauce to serve with the cold somen. You can also add julienned shiso leaves or myoga (Japanese ginger) if you can find them at Japanese grocery stores. The dipping sauce is light yet incredibly aromatic.
To make it more filling, feel free to bulk up the noodles by tossing in other ingredients such as shredded egg crepes (see How to Make Kinshi Tamago), julienned cucumbers, or ham.
There is nothing more comforting and satisfying than enjoying the long strands of chilled slippery somen noodles with the sweet-savory sauce on its own. It is truly one of the simple dishes that highlight the uniqueness of somen noodles.
Enjoy the cold somen noodles as a light meal!
Japanese Cold Somen Noodles
- 4 bundles dried somen noodles
- [Optional] Traditional Japanese restaurants tie up the noodles to enhance the appearance of the somen and this is how you do it. Tie the edge of somen noodles with cooking twine. This way noodles will stay in one direction while cooking. I normally skip this step for home use.
- In a large pot, bring water to a boil. When boiling, remove the wrapper.
- Add the somen noodles in the boiling water (do not add salt!). Stir noodles with chopsticks so they don’t stick to each other. Cook according to the package instructions. If necessary, add a little bit of cold water in the pot to prevent overflowing.
- Drain somen in a colander and wash the noodles with hands under running water.
- Once the noodles are cold, find the knotted parts of somen noodles and pick them up. Cut off the edge and discard. Hold each bundle gently and arrange it nicely on a serving plate. Somen can be served with ice to keep cool.
- Cut the scallion finely and grate the ginger. Put them in small dishes.
- Pour mentsuyu in individual dipping sauce bowls and add iced water to dilute. I recommend making homemade mentsuyu but if you're too busy, get a bottle of mentsuyu like this. See the instructions. You can check the ratio of mentsuyu to water on this page. This brand recommends 1:3.
- Put a small portion of scallion and ginger in the dipping sauce and dip the somen noodles to enjoy! To make it more filling, you can bulk up the noodles by tossing in other ingredients such as shredded egg crepes (see How to Make Kinshi Tamago), julienned cucumbers, boiled okra, and ham.
- You can keep the leftovers in an airtight container and store in the refrigerator for up to 2 days. Noodles will be stuck so you may want to loosen up in cold water before serving.
Editor’s Note: The post was originally published on August 14, 2013. The images have been re-edited in June 2021.